Our Program

 A Typical Day at IDEA School

Our students have time during the day for play, passion, and purpose, as they develop their literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, research, creativity, and communication skills and engage in real-world work around questions and interests of theirs, as well as provocations set forth by the collaborators.

Morning Circle: This is a time to build community and a time to connect at the beginning of each day. For our K-1 students, this time includes stories, songs, math games and the sharing of ideas.  For our older students, this is generally a time for community building and sharing of ideas.

Outdoor Play: Our students have more than an hour a day of unstructured outdoor play on the school grounds, both within the developed campus and out in the desert and wash area behind the school. We view outside unstructured play time as critical in the healthy development of children. The research is clear on the benefits to brain development, focus, and emotional health. (See more here.) Additionally, we see our students make huge strides in their social-emotional skills during unstructured outdoor play, as this is a time when they must learn to navigate the rules and social norms of creating their own games while being inclusive and supportive of one another, assessing risk, and solving problems.

Reading:  Independent reading is part of our students’ daily experience. Our school community spends an hour each day for silent reading (2nd-6th grade classroom) and story time (K-1; multiple times throughout the day). Collaborators work with pre-readers 1-on-1 and in small groups during reading blocks, and our older students get to improve their literacy skills by reading aloud to the pre-readers as well. Students are free to choose their own books, and collaborators work with emerging readers to find books that meet their interests and developmental needs.

Writing:  We engage our students in writing practice in developmentally appropriate ways from Kindergarten on up. For our K-1 students, writing practice entails such things as writing their names and answering class surveys about topics of interest to them; drawing and sharing pictures to represent stories; creating the classroom alphabet together; dictating stories; and seeing writing modeled by the collaborators every day. Our K-1 students have lots of opportunity for creative expression.  For our 2nd-6th grade students, writing practice includes everything from narrative storytelling to conducting internet research; from poetry and play writing to expository writing; from preparing for expert visitors (questions to ask; follow up; etc) to creating scripts for their own podcasts or YouTube videos.  Writing is also reinforced as an essential daily act of communication. Examples include writing the school directors of IDEA School and Changemaker High School when students have a special request and emailing community experts to learn more about a topic of choice. In our writing practice, we emphasize the expression of ideas first. We work on the conventions of writing (grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc) and the practice of editing and revision in service of authentic goals such as needing to persuade an audience, preparing to publish one’s writing, or preparing to present one’s research and work to others.

Math and Problem Solving: For our Kinder-1st Grade students, we provide daily opportunities to engage with numbers and number sense as they apply in their immediate environment. Examples include counting and adding things in the room; skip counting; using manipulatives; and playing with shapes and patterns. We also work with the basics of addition and subtraction with our 1st Graders and how to express these operations on paper.

For our 2nd-3rd Graders, we build upon this math-in-the-real-world orientation, and also begin work on how to identify and solve problems, both using manipulatives and on paper. We utilize games that nurture logic and analytical thought, and introduce students to developmentally appropriate math concepts that focus on multiple approaches to representing and solving problems. We rely on some of the provocations in Beast Academy (see below) to augment our work with this age group.

We engage in more structured math lessons with our 4th Graders on up, using the curriculum developed by the folks at The Art of Problem Solving called Beast Academy, and Khan Academy. This curriculum prepares students to enter into advanced middle school and high school math with the content background, skills, and frame of mind to excel. The Art of Problem Solving is a very successful middle and high school math curriculum that prepares students to engage with higher order math on a deep level. Even while employing this outside curriculum, we also aim to link the math concepts to the projects and explorations in which our students are engaged, to always keep math relevant to their real-world experience.

Field trips and Expert visits: Many times throughout the year, we host expert visitors and take field trips to explore a theme, a particular student interest, the Tucson community, or all of the above. Students prepare for expert visits and field studies by thinking and writing about what they’d like to learn from that particular expert or experience. Some students engage experts after the fact as well, to help them develop a project idea or otherwise provide needed information based on their expertise.

Art and Wood Shop:  Twice a week, our students in 2nd Grade and up have Art and Wood Shop electives, in which they learn and develop particular techniques and specific crafts within each discipline. These electives are led by outside experts including professional woodworkers and working artists.

Our Kinder-1st Grade program is infused throughout with art. We view artistic expression, including learning to use all kinds of media, as a critical piece of literacy development and the development of social-emotional skills.

Explore Build Learn time:  For our 2nd Graders on up, this is a daily time, built on the concept of the Google “Genius Hour,” for them to come up with a question they want answered or a challenge they want to take on, and to use whatever materials we have available, including digital tools, to explore that challenge or question and create something with it. We also utilize this time to work on daily reflection on one’s work, to build the habit of mind of being able to reflect upon and take control over how one uses “Free time.” This is a very popular part of the day, and one during which you will often see students not only deeply engaged, but also working on various 21st Century Skills all at once.

Workshops:  Every week our 2nd Graders and up get to choose three elective Workshops led by their collaborators, on topics ranging from Aztec architecture to book-binding, from stuffed animal creation to ethics, from memes to perspective drawing. These are mini-lessons based on collaborator interest, and each involves the students coming up with a “need to know” question and pursuing their unique answers.  Students also have the opportunity to propose and implement their own Workshops!